A view of al-Aksa mosque on the Temple Mount from the Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Amid accusations of a brazen “takeover” by Jews of a sought-after former Yemenite synagogue occupied by an Arab family in Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood early Wednesday morning, a right-wing NGO heralded the move as legal and long overdue.
“Israeli settlers took over three apartments in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, under the pretext they are absentee’s property, according to local sources,” Palestinian news organization WAFA reported.
“Witnesses told WAFA that a group of settlers, guarded by police officers, arrived in Silwan at midnight and broke into three vacant apartments owned by the Abu Nab clan. Police said the settlers had won a court ruling establishing that the three apartments are the property of Yemenite Jews [from] a long time ago,” it continued.
Despite claims that the apartments were misappropriated in the cloak of night while the family that lived there was away, Ateret Cohanim, an organization that purchases properties for Jews in Arab neighborhoods, said the property was vacant and legally acquired.
According to the organization, ownership of most of the contested property – which was seized during Arab rioting in the ’30s – was recently awarded to the NGO by the court following a protracted legal battle with its previous Arab residents.
The former synagogue, called Beit Knesset (but known by Arabs as Abu Nab), is adjacent to a Jewish- owned building called Beit Dvash and nearby Beit Yonatan, a six-story building that Ateret Cohanim built several years ago.
The left-wing NGO Ir Amim (City of Nations), which is dedicated to “the establishment of an egalitarian Jerusalem,” claimed that Ateret Cohanim legally, but wrongfully, seized the property from the family that lived there while the state turned a blind eye.
“Tonight a group of over 20 settlers took over Abu Nab in Silwan in the absence of the family that lived there,” it said, adding that the move constitutes “a series of incursions into Palestinian homes in recent months.”
“The state supports Ateret Cohanim and other settler organizations in their efforts to take over and privatize outposts in Palestinian neighborhoods in the city,” the organization continued.
“This policy degrades Jerusalem and should stop.”
While the Jerusalem Municipality said it is not directly involved in the case, which it deemed a “civilian issue,” it confirmed that the building was empty and legally acquired by Ateret Cohanim.
“Jews have the right live anywhere they choose in the world, especially in Jerusalem,” city hall said in a statement Meanwhile, Ateret Cohanim issued a statement lauding the move as a major, if incomplete, victory.
“Over the years, Israeli courts have ruled that the synagogue is recognized as an official synagogue and that it must be returned to the rightful Jewish owners – Hekdesh Benvenisti,” the statement read.
“This ruling was in addition to previous court rulings against the Arabs for illegal building on the religious and historic site,” it continued.
Still, the organization said portions of the synagogue remain inhabited by Arab squatters.
“Only part of the original synagogue has been returned to its owner, as some of the Arab families who have illegally squatted in the old synagogue are no longer in the premises, while others remain.... It’s still the amazing realization of a dream,” it said.
“[The synagogue] has been redeemed, and after some future serious restoration and renovation work, the sweet sounds of daily prayers, Jewish learning and Jewish life in general will once again be heard from the Beit Knesset complex,” it said.
Ateret Cohanim added that the former synagogue will, “God willing, service the yeshiva students in the area and also the Jewish families currently living nearby, in the Shiloah neighborhood.”
“Needy Jewish families may also move into the complex, as this is one of the aims of the original Yemenite hekdesh [religious trust],” the statement concluded.
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